Subjunctive in English

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Subjunctive in English

We mostly use the subjunctive in English with hypothetical-type situations to express uncertainty or politeness. Normally we use the subjunctive with common verbs that due to their nature usually take the subjunctive mood.

English has a subjunctive?

Romance languages like; Spanish, French and Italian all harbour and utilise the subjunctive, but does English also have a subjunctive? Yes. It does. Most natives don’t even know that they use it and probably wouldn’t even recognise it if they saw it, but it certainly exists and should be implemented when expressing something important or desirable. Such verbs that would go well with the English subjunctive are: ask, request, desire, want, insist, recommend, advise, essential. The subjunctive forms can be used in present and past forms. The subjunctive is the infinitive of every verb and is usually camouflaged and there can be no difference. However, when using the third person, it can be distinguished with most verbs.

The subjunctive is used with common verbs of desire and request

  • I ask you to go and deliver the form.
  • He asked James that he share the news. (third-person singular, no ‘s’)
  • It is essential that the company grow in order to prosper.  (the third-person singular, no ‘s’)
  • My advice for handling the situation is you call the police.
  • His recommendation is that Sally return to her apartment. (third-person singular, no ‘s’).

The subjunctive is used for fixed phrases

  • God bless you.
  • God save the queen.
  • Be that as it may.
  • Long live your marriage.
  • Long live…

In English, there are a certain amounts of fixed phrases that due to their nature will always require the subjunctive. 

The subjunctive takes the infinitive of the verb

  • Mary lives in Kensington, London.
  • It is my wish that Mary live in Kensington, London.
  • Both sentences are correct. The first sentence doesn’t use the subjunctive while the second sentence does, hence the infinitive ‘live’ and not the third person form ‘lives’.

So even in the third-person singular, if using subjunctive-type-verbs, then it’s appropriate to insert the infinitive as the subjunctive to express desire or importance related nuances.  

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